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NY Jets: 5 biggest holes remaining on the team’s roster

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
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NY Jets (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

The NY Jets entered the 2021 NFL free-agency period a little over a week ago, flushed with tons of cap space and with a ton of holes on their roster. A byproduct of years of shoddy drafting and free-agent signings.

The legendary Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” The Jets were coming off a two-win campaign in 2020, and their overall roster is reflective of that.

Going into free agency, you could argue that the Jets needed to upgrade at quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, safety, and throw in a kicker for good measure.

The task of shoring up all those specific areas in one offseason through free agency and the draft is highly challenging and nearly impossible.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there are no shortcuts to winning, and the NFL isn’t Madden (considering the state of EA’s franchise mode for years, thank God for that).

In free agency, a team can have all the cap space in the world, but convincing players to sign on with you is a whole other thing.

Especially if you are a losing franchise like the Jets have been for the last decade. Unless you pay well above market value, you spend your time trying to convince premium free agents to take a leap of faith.

For several months, before free agency began, Jets general manager Joe Douglas and newly-minted head coach Robert Saleh stressed to the media repeatedly the importance of adding dynamic playmakers to their roster.

The type of players that the green and white have lacked for a long time.

The modern-day NFL is evolving but what separates the good teams from the bad teams is the number of impact players you have on your roster. The Jets’ offense and defense lack difference-making players, specifically at the most crucial positions that teams need to win.

Heading into free agency, two major areas that needed to be addressed by the Jets were acquiring a dynamic edge-rusher and a top target in the passing game.

And that’s what the Jets believe they accomplished by investing heavily in former Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson and Titans wide receiver Corey Davis. The Jets doled out nearly $60 million of guaranteed money to both Lawson and Davis.

Not to downplay the Jets’ other free agent signings — Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry, Keelan Cole, Justin Hardee, Jarrad Davis, Lamarcus Joyner, Dan Feeney, Tevin Coleman, etc. — all of these acquisitions have value.

Still, these moves take on less importance than the investment made at the edge-rushing position in the Jets’ new 4-3 defense and adding a dynamic No. 1 receiver in Davis.

Joe Douglas and his staff will continue to fill holes as free agency progresses, but the key signings have already taken place. The rest of the Jets’ most significant areas of need will have to be addressed through the draft a month from now.

If the Jets are going to turn around their franchise for the long haul, their front office and coaching staff must hit on cornerstone players in the draft. They can’t rely on yearly free-agent spending sprees.

Here is a list of the five most significant holes and question marks remaining on the Jets’ roster.

Next: 5. Offensive line

NY Jets (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

5. The NY Jets need to add another cornerstone offensive lineman

One of the biggest surprises to the Jets’ fanbase during the first wave of free agency was how the team did not acquire one of the elite offensive linemen available on the market. Many observers felt that the addition of a player like Joe Thuney was a must.

The Jets were reportedly in on the former New England Patriots guard before the Kansas City Chiefs swooped in and broke the bank for his services.

Typically, elite offensive linemen do not make it to free agency. On rare occasions, premium players do, mainly interior linemen, but oftentimes they do so because of their age or exorbitant salary demands.

A player like Thuney, in his prime, being available for the taking is rare. The Jets seemed poised to make the aggressive play and sign Thuney, at a position of great need,  but didn’t.

Since Thuney’s signing, the Jets’ front office signed Dan Feeney as a swing-type insurance policy. Still, the team didn’t pursue any of the remaining top-tier offensive linemen available in free agency or through trade. Most notably, former Packers and now current Chargers center Corey Linsley.

The Jets believe that they have a blue-chip left tackle in Mekhi Becton.

The problem is that the rest of the team’s offensive line is an underwhelming group of players who, in theory, could raise their level of play in the Jets’ new zone-blocking scheme coordinated by line coach John Benton, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.

Players like George Fant, signed last offseason, can be ideal fits for the new scheme, but New York is far away from being an elite group upfront.

Last offseason, Joe Douglas remade the Jets up front with a group of modest second-tier signings in the form of center Connor McGovern, tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten, and in the re-signing of guard Alex Lewis.

Characterizing this group and the success of these acquisitions as a mixed bag overall would be a charitable designation.

The team is missing a difference-making lineman to pair up with Mekhi Becton. In the same way, the Jets paired up former team greats like D’Brickashaw Ferguson with Nick Mangold. The shift in finding that type of player will have to come through the draft.

Barring some unforeseen trade for an elite offensive lineman, the Jets’ scouting department will have to identify, target, and draft a top offensive lineman with one of their premium picks in next month’s draft.

Some will strongly suggest the idea of the Jets drafting Oregon standout offensive tackle Penei Sewell early. In contrast, others will point to USC’s Alijah Vera Tucker, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrishaw, Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, and others as potential early-round targets.

No matter the preferences, it’s imperative that the Jets address this great area of need. The team needs long-term building blocks on their offensive line.

Next: 4. Outside cornerback

NY Jets (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

4. The NY Jets need to find a true shutdown cornerback

Before it’s all said and done, the Jets will likely sign a veteran cornerback or two in free agency. But the truth is that at this point, no matter whom they sign, that player will be a short-term band-aid on something that requires a long-term solution.

Barring the extremely unlikely trade of Stephon Gilmore from New England to New York. The Jets desperately need a true No. 1 shutdown cornerback, one that the franchise hasn’t had since Darrelle Revis donned the green and white.

Like the current offensive line situation, it’s somewhat surprising that the Jets haven’t addressed this glaring issue in free agency.

Gang Green barely made any play for players like Shaquill Griffin, William Jackson III, Mike Hilton, Kyle Fuller, Adoree Jackson, etc. Perhaps Joe Douglas wasn’t willing to overspend for players he or the Jets staff may not deem as genuine No. 1 cornerbacks.

What’s even more surprising is the Jets’ lack of aggression and pursuit of former 49ers defensive backs that Robert Saleh coached.

To this point, any interest in Richard Sherman has been lukewarm at best. Sherman seemed like a no-brainer for the Jets and their new head coach from a veteran leader standpoint.

Other players like New Jersey native K’Waun Williams seemed like locks to man a corner spot in the Jets secondary, but Williams has circled back with San Francisco on a one-year deal.

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Despite the natural and obvious Robert Saleh connections available to Gang Green in free agency, the team seems to be going in a different direction. It’s pretty telling that the Jets didn’t aggressively pursue these 49er players in particular.

It’s entirely possible that the Jets’ new defensive staff likes what they saw in their evaluations on tape from neophyte corners currently on the roster in Blessuan Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry.

Even if that’s the case, the aforementioned players are largely unproven. And although the team has gone to great lengths to improve their pass rush with the Lawson and Rankins’ additions, the back end of the Jets’ defense is still a huge question mark.

A lot like the Jets finally addressing their never-ending search for an edge rusher by signing Carl Lawson. A true shutdown cornerback is also a must-have spot that has eluded the franchise for quite some time.

The Jets are not going to be able to compete and win games until they find one. The one could come in next month’s draft.

Next: 3. Another offensive playmaker

NY Jets
NY Jets

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

3. The NY Jets need to add another dynamic playmaker on offense

The Jets’ roster has so many question marks that it’s difficult to pinpoint one in particular. An easy way of oversimplifying the Jets’ issues on offense would be to ask yourself one simple trivia question.

Name the one player on the Jets roster that opposing teams fear or spend extra time game-planning for? The honest answer to that question is that the Jets don’t have a player like that.

Joe Douglas and his staff are banking on Corey Davis being that type of player in Mike LaFleur’s offense. There’s also hope that Denzel Mims can stay healthy and develop into a difference-making player in the passing game.

Even if players like Davis and Mims pan out and live up to their upside and expectations, the Jets still need to add another dynamic playmaker to their offense.

Whether that need is filled with a running back, receiver, or even a tight end, it doesn’t matter. The Jets need another dynamic player on offense that will make the job of whoever is playing quarterback for the Jets next season easier.

Most Jets’ fans are scoffing at the notion of drafting what looks like a sure thing in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. A player that looks like he will be a top-five tight end immediately upon entry into the league.

Others would like to see the Jets not use their high-end draft picks in April on any skill position players, whether that’s a running back like Najee Harris or a wide receiver like Ja’Marr Chase.

There’s a strong argument against the Jets drafting a running back early, especially pertaining to the Jets’ new offensive system regarding the utilization of the position.

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Traditionally, the Shanahan system has always been a plug-and-play type scenario where many different one-cut runners alternate and succeed because of the scheme.

Much to the chagrin of many fantasy football owners, in the past, who have drafted running backs who played under Kyle Shanahan.

One of the running backs that has worn the hat and played the role of an alternating committee-styled running back in the Shanahan system is Tevin Coleman, who just signed a one-year $2 million deal with the Jets.

Having him in the locker and film room will greatly aid the other Jets’ backs, looking to learn the system, but Coleman is a role player at this stage of his career.

The Jets’ lack of pursuit toward long-term answers at running backs in free agency leads many to believe that they have their eyes set on some of the elite runners in the upcoming draft.

Many teams have moved past a running back-centric offense in the modern era. However, look no further than the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry to see the difference that a dynamic player can make on an entire offense.

New Jets wide receiver Corey Davis can attest to the type of impact his former teammate Henry had on the Titans’ offense and passing game.

The bottom line is that the Jets need to add players on offense that make everyone better around them. The same way that Curtis Martin once did many moons ago.

The goal should be getting the type of skill position player that an entire offense can be built around. The Jets don’t have that type of player right now.

Next: 2. Another linebacker

NY Jets
NY Jets

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

2. The NY Jets need to find a long-term answer at linebacker

The Jets have a brand new defensive scheme. The franchise is back to playing the 4-3 defense for the first time in over a decade and a half. The new defense coordinated by Jeff Ulbrich is going to require different types of linebackers than the Jets have scouted and targeted in the past.

The goal is landing the type of off-ball, three-down prototypes that have had success for Ulbrich in his previous stops and Robert Saleh in Seattle, Jacksonville, and most recently San Francisco. Finding the next Bobby Wagner or Fred Warner is easier said than done.

The Jets are taking a one-year flier on recently-acquired linebacker Jarrad Davis. The Jets’ new staff identified the former 2017 first-round pick out of Florida as someone who can play the type of role needed for the linebackers in this system.

It will require players who can cover a lot of ground in the front seven and on the back end. But Jarrad Davis, to this point of his career, hasn’t lived up to his potential. Hence the reason that he is on a one-year prove-it deal.

During this free-agency period, the Jets also made a play for a former Jeff Ulbrich player in Atlanta Falcons hybrid safety Keanu Neal — a former teammate of Jets’ franchise safety Marcus Maye. Gang Green’s new defensive staff’s idea was to transition Neal to playing weakside linebacker in their 4-3 scheme.

Neal came close to signing on with the Jets but instead opted to choose Dallas to play in a similar role for Cowboys coordinator Dan Quinn. Notably, another coach coming from the same defensive ecosystem as Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.

The Jets might be pinning their hopes on the return of C.J. Mosley — a player who, at his peak, possesses many of the attributes required of a linebacker in this new defensive scheme. However, Mosley is a huge question mark and gamble moving forward.

He opted out of the entire 2020 season and missed almost the entirety of the 2019 season due to injury. In addition, Mosley has a large contract, one that current Jets GM Joe Douglas did not sign him to.

Recent reports have suggested that the Jets may be willing to eat some of Mosely’s contract and trade him.

Notwithstanding that, Even if Mosley returns to New York’s roster in 2021, there’s no guarantee at 29 when the season starts that he will be able to recapture the form he showed in Baltimore and very briefly with the Jets in his debut in 2019.

And quite frankly, the Jets may move on from Mosley next offseason, even if he does return to form.

These different elements and combined uncertainties at the linebacker position for New York add up to one logical conclusion. The Jets will need to find a long-term difference-making solution at a crucial spot in their defense.

The age of 250-to-260-pound linebackers manning the Jets defense is gone. Off-ball linebackers who are safety-type hybrids, like, for example, Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, could be in play for Gang Green next month.

Next: 1. Quarterback

NY Jets
NY Jets

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. The NY Jets must make the right decision at quarterback

The decision that Jets GM Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh, and his staff must make at quarterback is not an enviable one. It’s a decision that will ultimately determine and dictate the Jets’ fortunes in the next decade.

The franchise can’t afford to get it wrong.

As of press time, Sam Darnold is still a New York Jet. A position that he stressed at season’s end that he wanted to be for the rest of his career.

The fate of Darnold’s career is in the Jets’ hands. Multiple teams have made their moves for veteran quarterbacks through trade and free agency.

Potential suitors for Sam Darnold like Washington, Indianapolis, and Chicago have moved on with different plans at quarterback. As a result, very few viable potential suitors remain (San Francisco/Denver?).

Sam Darnold is under contract with the Jets for the 2021 season. The team has the latitude on May 3rd to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2022 season ($18.8 million in fully guaranteed money).

The way things are looking presently, Jets fans may not get their answer on Darnold until the draft. The decision might not be evident until after the Jets are on the clock. Similar to Arizona trading Josh Rosen after drafting Kyler Murray.

The other quarterback that has been speculated to put on a Jets uniform in 2021 has been Deshaun Watson. The vision or prevailing hope by some was that the Jets would use their considerable amount of draft assets in the next few years to acquire the superstar franchise quarterback.

But a crazy thing happened on the road to that possibility and dream — the recent bombardment of 16 plus lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct against him has created great pause from the entire league and teams like the Jets who may have traded for Watson.

Until these unfortunate matters are resolved, Watson has, at least temporarily, been taken off the board for any of these franchises who wanted him. The Texans will probably still move Watson at some point, but now the question becomes, when can they? And will they be able to?

A possibility of restriction exists if Watson is placed on the exempt list by the league. These are answers that many franchises like the Jets won’t wait to find out.

Perhaps a team like Carolina or even Chicago will be willing to hold a candle for Watson and wait until later in the year to deal for Watson.

Many of those teams that exercise patience could be rewarded by having to give up less for Watson than they would’ve weeks ago before this latest controversy.

The Jets don’t appear likely to be one of those teams that presses pause for Watson because of the options available to them.

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That brings the Jets’ to the draft.

Many have prematurely assumed that the Jets’ brain trust has already made their decision at quarterback. The truth is, that may very well be the case in regards to Sam Darnold. And there have certainly been hints of that just by Douglas publicly admitting that he would field calls for him.

However, what’s not definitive yet, is who Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, Mike LaFleur, and his staff favor to be the Jets’ next franchise quarterback in this year’s draft class.

Many experts feel that when Gang Green is on the clock, BYU’s Zach Wilson will eventually be the pick. Several pundits are excluding the genuine possibility that players like Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or even potentiality a Mac Jones, in a trade down scenario, could be the Jets’ preferred signal-caller.

Ultimately, this decision won’t be determined, until all the background work, medicals, and otherwise on these QB prospects is completed.

The Jets’ front office and coaching staff won’t rush into this pivotal decision without turning over every stone and doing all their necessary homework.

Next. NY Jets fill major needs in post-free agency 7-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft

The adopted new mantra of ‘All Gas No Brake’ won’t go into effect until the franchise picks who will be driving their car.

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